Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

In the age of the ‘manosphere,’ what’s the future for feminism? With Jude Kelly of the WOW Festival

Jude Kelly portrait taken on the 21st October 2023 in London

Jude Kelly Founder & CEO of the WOW Foundation Image: WOW Foundation

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Sophia Akram
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Gender Inequality

  • Is gender equality under threat?
  • Jude Kelley, chief executive officer and founder of Women of the World talks about the global festival that celebrates women and girls and the critical role of men in an issue that affects us all on Radio Davos.
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“There’s no doubt about it that the ‘manosphere,’ as it’s termed, is a growing and worrying situation… I think they are outriders but there’s too many of them to just let it go and not be worried.”

Jude Kelly, chief executive officer and founder of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival, addresses the threat of online misogyny and 'incels' - to men as well as women, on the Forum's Radio Davos podcast, as she talks about her experience starting WOW, men’s role in feminism, and progress and regression around attitudes to women across the world.

Here are some highlights (some quotes are lightly edited for clarity):

Have you read?

WOW: Its inception and purpose

Jude Kelly: I did the festival for its very first year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and it was such a hit… Straight away people said, "Oh, I’d love to do this in Baltimore, I’d love to do this Australia…"

I called it Women Of the World because I wanted to be clear that there is no ownership of what’s the right thing and the right way of being a woman.

The girls and women who come - and the boys and men, because many men attend - they might think they’re coming to hear one thing that interests them but they’re going to bump into something else. And whether that’s something as plaintive and difficult as looking at the violence that’s enacted on women... or whether it’s something completely joyful, like hearing from the first Indian woman surfing champion... All of these stories make up a sense that there's a vitality in the idea of human progress.

Men’s role in feminism’s future

Jude Kelly: There’s no doubt about it that the manosphere, as it’s termed, is a growing and worrying situation. There’s been a recent poll that’s demonstrated that 57% of men think that women’s rights have gone far enough or too far. And those are not older men; they’re younger men…

I think that one of the reasons that the biosphere is growing in misogyny is because not only are women much more confident about speaking about their rights and their needs but more men are also, maybe much more quietly, agreeing with them…

Those men who are like pushing the misogyny back, I think they’re outriders but there’s too many of them to just let it go and not be worried.


These issues are universal

Jude Kelly: There’s more in common than not.

Just to talk about the bleak things: violence against women is absolutely endemic everywhere… Nowhere in the world has there been sufficient education in society or condemnation in society that this has taken a hold... There’s still a gender pay gap all over the world, some much more extreme than others, but it’s all symptomatic.

Every WOW is basically created by women in those countries. So I don't run the WOW in Turkey. I don't run the WOW in Rio. They're run by women from those countries, and they create the content with other women from those countries. So you're not imposing a kind of Western sensibility and in that respect, the cultural norms of those countries are questioned as much as it's safe to do so. You know, in some places it's not, easy to talk about LGBTQ+ rights. In other countries it's fine. But even those places where it's sort of in theory undiscussed, actually, people have their own codes, their own ways of making sure these things do get discussed.

So you trust the intuition and knowledge of the people on the ground. That's who is making the festival work.

Before we do festivals, we gather together hundreds of girls and women, boys and men, and say: here's a festival where you can discuss anything you want to discuss. Taboos can be discussed. Strange things, weird things, funny things. What is it you want to discuss?

They just find a way of talking about them in the right way that allows people not to feel frightened that they’re in the room – so safe space to talk about difficult things.

That’s the right way to approach things culturally.


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